Thursday, February 12, 2015 | News

New guidance for upholding reproductive rights in Africa

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has released General Comment No 2 to help governments interpret the rights to abortion and family planning under the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa.

General Comment No 2 will help
policymakers and advocates shape laws, policies and practices to comply
with the Protocol—which is the only international human rights treaty
that recognizes a discrete  right to abortion (under Article 14).  The
Protocol has been ratified by more than two-thirds of the 54 member
states of the African Union.

“This guidance will be useful in
educating all stakeholders, including health-care providers, lawyers,
policymakers and judges on how to realize the right to abortion,” says
Patty Skuster, Ipas Senior Policy Advisor.

The document was drafted under the guidance of the Soyata Maiga, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, with technical support from the Ipas Africa Alliance.

As Commissioner Maiga writes in the
preface of the document, “…there is still limited access by women and
girls to family planning, criminalization of abortion, and difficulties
faced by women in accessing safe and available abortion services,
including in cases where abortion is legalized. There are several
reasons why this situation which is harmful to women’s physical and
mental health still persists, despite the very high daily rate of
maternal mortality in Africa.”

The General Comment, she notes, is
squarely aimed at ending preventable deaths and injuries to women and
serves as a guide for countries to fulfill their obligations under the
Maputo Protocol.

A high number of women in Africa still
do not have access to modern contraception. African women who are poor,
young, uneducated or live in rural areas fare the worst. This unmet need
results in a high rate of unintended pregnancies and often leads to
unsafe abortion, which claims the lives of far too many women throughout
the continent.

Stigma around abortion, as well as a
long history of criminalization, has been a barrier to legal reform in
many African countries. And health-care professionals, women seeking
abortion, and legal professionals are often uninformed about abortion
laws, even in countries where abortion is legally permitted.

General Comment 2 draws from the work
of the UN Committee on Economic and Social Rights as it calls on
countries to provide reproductive health services that are available,
accessible, ethically and culturally acceptable, and of good quality.

According to Naisola Likimani, Senior Policy Advisor at the Ipas Africa Alliance, “For advocates and governments alike, General Comment 2 serves as a blueprint for action to save women’s lives and ensure they can realize their right to reproductive health across Africa and beyond.”

For more information, contact media@ipas.org